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Orange Roughy

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Orange roughy Conservation status Conservation Dependent (EPBC Act)[1] Scientific classification Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata Class: Actinopterygii Order: Beryciformes Family: Trachichthyidae Genus: Hoplostethus Species: H. atlanticus Binomial name Hoplostethus atlanticus Collett, 1889

The orange roughy, red roughy, or deep sea perch, Hoplostethus atlanticus, is a relatively large deep-sea fish belonging to the slimehead family (Trachichthyidae). The Marine Conservation Society has categorized orange roughy as vulnerable to exploitation. It is found in cold (3 to 9 °C), deep (bathypelagic, 180 to 1,800 m) waters of the western Pacific Ocean, eastern Atlantic (from Iceland to Morocco; and from Walvis Bay, Namibia, to off Durban, South Africa), Indo-Pacific (off New Zealand and Australia), and in the Eastern Pacific off Chile. The orange roughy is notable for its extraordinary lifespan — a recorded (disputed by commercial fishers but supported by scientists) maximum of 149 years — and importance to commercial deep trawl fishery. Actually a bright brick red in life, the orange roughy fades to a yellowish orange after death.

Like other slimeheads, the orange roughy is slow-growing and late to mature, resulting in a very low resilience. They are extremely susceptible to overfishing because of this, and many stocks (especially those off New Zealand and Australia, which were first exploited in the late 1970s) have already crashed; recently discovered substitute stocks are rapidly dwindling. The flesh is firm with a mild flavour; it is sold skinned and filleted, fresh or frozen. [2]


Physical description

Fish in the Faroe Islands: Orange roughy, Hoplostethus atlanticus Faroese stamp issued: 7 Feb 1994 Artist: Astrid Andreasen

The body is very deep and the rounded head is riddled with muciferous canals (part of the lateral line system), as is typical of slimeheads. The single dorsal fin contains four to six spines and 15 to 19 soft rays; the anal fin contains three spines and 10 to 12 soft rays. The ventral scutes (modified scales forming a hard, bony median ridge between the pelvic fins and anus) number 19 to 25. The pectoral fins contain 17 to 20 soft rays each; the pelvic fins are thoracic and contain one spine and six soft rays; the caudal fin is forked. The interior of the mouth and gill cavity is a bluish black; the mouth itself is large and strongly oblique. The scales are ctenoid and adherent. The lateral line is uninterrupted with 28 to 32 scales whose spinules or ctenii largely obscure the lateral line's pores. The eyes are large.

The orange roughy is the largest known species of slimehead at a maximum standard length (SL, a measurement excluding the tail fin) of 75 cm and a maximum weight of seven kg. However, the average commercial catch size is 30 to 40 cm SL.

Life history

A preserved specimen on display at a museum.

Orange roughy are generally sluggish and demersal; they form aggregations with a population density of up to 2.5 fish per square meter but now they have been reduced to about 1 fish per square meter. These aggregations form in and around geologic structures, such as undersea canyons and seamounts, where water movement and mixing is high — ensuring dense concentrations of prey items. The aggregations do not necessarily form for the purpose of spawning or feeding; it is thought that the fish cycle through metabolic phases (active or feeding and inactive or resting) and seek areas with ideal hydrologic conditions to congregate during their active and inactive phases. Observations made of orange roughy aggregations during submersible dives have also shown that the fish lose almost all pigmentation whilst inactive, during which time they are very approachable. Predators of orange roughies include large deep-roving sharks, cutthroat eels, merluccid hakes, and snake mackerels.

When active, they feed primarily on zooplankton such as mysid shrimp, euphausiids, amphipods and other crustaceans; adults also take smaller fish and squid. The orange roughy's metabolic phases are thought to be related to seasonal variations in the fishes' prey concentrations, with the inactive phase being a means to conserve energy during lean periods.

Orange roughy are oceanodromous, non-guarding pelagic spawners: that is, they migrate several hundred kilometres between localised spawning and feeding areas each year and form large spawning aggregations (possibly segregated according to sex) wherein the fish release large, spherical eggs (2.25 millimetres in diameter, made buoyant by an orange-red oil globule) and sperm en masse directly into the water. The fertilized eggs (and later larvae) are planktonic, rising to around 200 meters to develop, with the young fish eventually descending to deeper waters as they mature. The time between fertilization and hatching is thought to be 10 to 20 days; fecundity is low, with each female producing only 22,000 eggs per kilogram of body weight which is less than 10 per cent of the average for other species of fish. Orange roughy are very slow-growing, reaching maturity at 20 to 30 years of age.

The maximum published age of 149 years was determined via radiometric dating of trace isotopes found in an orange roughy's otolith (``ear bone``). Similarly, counting the growth rings of orange roughy otoliths has given a maximum age of 125 to 156 years. The validity of these results is questioned by commercial fishers as some state the former method is controversial and the latter method is known to underestimate age in older specimens. The issue has yet to be resolved definitively but carries important implications relating to the orange roughy's conservation status.

Ecological impact of human consumption

In recent years, the consumption of orange roughy has risen drastically due to increased supply through previously impossible deep-sea trawling techniques. Its recovery rate from fishing is slow because of its life cycle and sporadic reproduction making the fish prone to overfishing. It is the first commercially sought fish to be added to Australia's list of endangered species because of overfishing. [3] According to sustainable seafood guides, such as Seafood Watch (USA), the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand [4], the Marine Conservation Society (UK), [5], the orange roughy is currently on the list of fish that consumers should avoid the most.

The Orange Roughy is New Zealands highest value fishery accounting for 17.2% of New Zealands total finfish export earnings. Fishery management practice is to quickly reduce the Orange Roughy biomass (fish down stage) to a target biomass of 30%. Once this target is achieved, quotas are set. For example, assuming a hypothetical Orange Roughy biomass of 100,000 tons, 70,000 tons is considered surplus and intensively fished until a target level of 30% is reached. Quotas are now set to maintain a ``maximum sustainable yield``. In this example a sustainable yield was originally believed to be 1,200 tons per year to maintain a target biomass of 30,000 tons. By 2005 it became obvious that this quota was too high.[6]

The New Zealand Ministry of Fisheries tried to implement quotas for catches, but because of the underestimated slow-maturing nature of the orange roughy, the quotas have been reduced each year. However, the quotas may still be too high for the fisheries to be sustainable with the best estimate of the current biomass being 11% of the unfished population size compared to a biomass of 30% believed to be required for a stable population. Misreporting of catches is a serious problem with one permit holder in the northern fishery (ORH1) pleading guilty in 2008 to exceeding his quota by 180 tons (The combined quotas for the entire ORH1 is 1,400 tons). Since the orange roughy is a valuable export, the Ministry of Fisheries has launched projects to study the fish. [7]

The Australian Orange Roughy fishery was not discovered until the 1990's and by 2008 the biomass was down to 10% of the original unfished stock.[8]

The United States continues to import up to 8,620 tonnes (19 million lb) of orange roughy per year. Several major food retailers have establish seafood sustainability policies dealing with the orange roughy, with some, such as Safeway, Inc., allowing the sale of the fish [9], while others have included provisions within their policies to prohibit its sale explicitly[10]. A joint report released in 2003 by the TRAFFIC Oceania and WWF Endangered Seas Programme argues that there is ``probably no such thing as an economically viable deep-water fishery that is also sustainable.`` and concluded that ``Similarly, international agreements to reduce fishing capacity, to remove subsidies which encourage over-fishing, to encourage co-operation in management of fish stocks and flag States to take responsibility for their vessels fishing on the high seas, appear to have gone largely unheeded, to the detriment of deep-sea species and their associated ecosystems.``.[11]

In addition to the dangers for the species, the method of bottom trawling has been heavily criticized by environmentalists for its destructive nature. The destructive nature of bottom trawling combined with the heavy commercial demand has garnered focused criticism from both environmentalists and media. [12]

See also

List of fish common names


^ Hoplostethus atlanticus — Orange Roughy, Deep-sea Perch, Red Roughy, Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment and Heritage, Australia. ^ ([dead link] – Scholar search) Science Fact Sheet: Orange Roughy, Delicacy from the deep,, retrieved 2007-08-17  ^ Darby, Andrew (2006-11-10). ``Trawled fish on endangered list``. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2007-08-17.  ^ [1] ^ ^ Industry Managment Within the New Zealand Quota Managment System: pdf. ^ ^ Orange roughy: Down and out Australian Marine Conservation Society ^ [2] ^ [3] ^ [4] ^ ``Case for trawl ban 'overwhelming'``. BBC New. 2007-05-05. Retrieved 2006-11-15.  Hoplostethus atlanticus (TSN 166139). Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved on 30 January 2006. ``Hoplostethus atlanticus``. FishBase. Ed. Ranier Froese and Daniel Pauly. March 2005 version. N.p.: FishBase, 2005. ``Habitat, behaviour and colour patterns of orange roughy Hoplostethus atlanticus (Pisces: Trachichthyidae) in the Bay of Biscay`` Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK (2002), 82:321–331. Pascal Lorance, Franz Uiblein, and Daniel Latrouite. Retrieved March 2005. ``Orange Roughy Fact Card`` Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Retrieved March 2, 2005. (PDF file.) ``Biology of Orange Roughy`` Orange Roughy Management Co. Ltd. Retrieved March 2, 2005. ``Inferring spawning migrations of orange roughy (Hoplostethus atlanticus) from spawning ogives`` Marine and Freshwater Research 49(2) 103 – 108. R. I. C. C. Francis and M. R. Clark. Retrieved March 2, 2005.

Further reading

Clover, Charles. 2004. The End of the Line: How overfishing is changing the world and what we eat. Ebury Press, London. ISBN 0-09-189780-7 Earle, Sylvia. 2009. The World is Blue. National Geographic. ISBN-10: 1426205414

External links

Environmental concerns

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